Imagine you wake up tomorrow, and you didn't have your job, didn't have to run what you're running and didn't have anyone looking to you for direction? What if you didn't have the responsibilities you have, didn't have to deliver against them and didn't have to show people leadership?
Would you still be a leader?
In other words, how much of "being a leader" would you retain if you had no leadership responsibilities whatsoever?
If your answer is no, you wouldn't still be a leader, read on. Because I believe that being a leader has to start with being a leader in your own life, first.
Go after meaning
Compare two people. The first goes with the flow, occupying their time with boxset-binging, idle gossip, being better than other people and chasing the trappings of success.
The second concerns themselves with spending time with people they care about, putting energy into a community they feel part of, nurturing their creative expression and working to build something they're proud of.
The second person is a leader in their own life; the first wouldn't know leadership if it saved them from a burning building.
The difference is meaning.
If you go after what matters to you, what resonates and what means something to you, that's leading in your own life. Whether it's working on a novel or taking art classes, whether it's prioritising family time or giving your partner something they need, or whether it's contributing to a local cause or working to make a difference for a specific group of people, what leaders do is go after the meaning.
One of the things that separates leaders from others is their willingness to make the decision. When faced with a problem, a challenge or an opportunity, they'll look at what's going on and make a choice.
It's easy to look to others for answers. To sidestep the responsibility. To avoid making the wrong decision. That's easy and it's safe, but it never gets you out there, carving a path in your life.
It's tempting to want to have all the answers, mitigate all the risks, or to wait until the time's right before you decide. But you can wait forever for those things, by which time everything's changed.
There's a balancing act here, for sure—nobody wants to be a bull in a china shop and make rash, uninformed decisions, but neither should you wait until everything's perfectly understood or risk-free before deciding.
Leadership is treading that line and owning those decisions.
Being a leader in your own life is accepting your capability for contribution, which is exercised through the decisions you make.
Congruence through to action
You're a bubbling stew of contradictions, flaws and expectations. And what makes a huge difference to the quality of your life and experience is bringing some congruence to it all.
If you realise that you have a mile-wide creative streak, look for a fun creative project and make time to get stuck in. If you believe that your role as a parent is one of the greatest and most rewarding parts of your life, work at it and enjoy it and relish the challenges it brings. Or if you feel moved by a cause that's dear to your heart, see how your voice or your time or your energy might make a difference.
Belief, thought and behaviour are all connected. You do things because they matter. You hold back because you're afraid. You make a choice because you want to try something.
These connections are complex and multi-layered, but being a leader in your own life is about bringing some flow and congruence to it.
Threading something you believe in with a decision you can make, then to an action you can take. Having something that matters to you flow into your behaviour. Seeing something you're scared of, then realising that you care more about what's on the other side and aligning your actions accordingly.
This is how you lead in your own life.
To lead in your own life...
Even if you don't have a business, a team, a plan, accountability, followers or any of the other things you might expect "leaders" to have, you can still be a leader in your own life.
In fact, if there was someone with a business, a team, a plan, accountability, followers or whatever else, who wasn't prepared to be a leader in their own life first, I wouldn't look to them for much of anything.
How can you possibly expect to lead others, when you're not willing to lead yourself?